Spilled Milk

Note: The following piece is powerful and important - some may find it triggering.
It is a real story from a real survivor. 

 

Since I’m wondering what I’m doing living with my mother - with 2 kids weeks before my 30th birthday after 10 years plus of independence, I figured I’d just type it out, just to try to make sense of it all. 

So I guess I’ll start at the beginning. 6 years ago. A movie date. In hindsight, probably not the best choice but my radar wasn’t as finely tuned then and my standards weren’t the highest if I’m being honest. Just the existence of his wallet and a vehicle (with EZ pass, girl) made him seem like a catch. He was exciting. New. Mysterious. Which again, had my radar been a little better would have been alarming. But anyway...

It was alluring at the time. He lived an exciting life. Trips, parties, the High life. While I was living my regular little single mom life, working hard to provide a stable environment to my 2-year-old son. Just the fact that he was interested in such a life was incredible to me. It was casual at first. I had strict rules about who and what I allowed into my home because of my son. His father and I split while he was an infant and we had a good but brittle co-parenting relationship. I wasn’t ready to expose him to...anything, really. Let alone this man that I barely knew anything about. Come to think of it, though, NO One knew anything about him. Everyone knew him. But didn’t KNOW him. He was “private”. But again...would later find out the better term was “secretive”. But I was hooked.

And he appeared to be equally smitten. First respecting, then overcoming my strict rules about interacting with my son. Spending time...even if it was a quick “hi” on the back porch. As cliche as it sounds...our relationship blossomed. The sex was amazing, the home cooked meals served adoringly and the nights turned to days turned to weeks. And then we were “a thing”. But he wasn’t ready to give up ALL of his vices. The traveling and partying with his semi famous bestie, but somehow that little bit of unavailability added to the allure. For the most part we had a functional relationship.

I let him in. I think I knew I was a goner when I was attempting to potty train my son-unsuccessfully. HE got him trained. I trusted him with my most cherished possession with the most private task possible. And he nailed it. 

He became controlling possessive-but in little ways that aren’t so little in hindsight, but at the time I liked them. He did things like copied MY house keys and reorganized my closet making room for his belongings... both without any preceding discussion. The 2017 me asks “aren’t these things we should have a conversation about first (and besides Mom would kill me if I gave out her house key)” but 2011 me thought it was endearing and showed how much he desperately wanted to be with me. 

We talked of our family life and adding to it, promptly picked out a cute little house for rent and in the process of moving got a positive pregnancy test. We were over the moon, ecstatic! I went to the Doctor for the routine 8 week work up. “Something is off...maybe your dates”, the doctor said. She decided to order an ultrasound to get a better look, which only confirmed there was an underdeveloped sac in my uterus, a blighted ovum. No baby, and in the most scientific delivery possible, the Doctor said, “you can expect what feels like a painful period and then it will be over”. I was devastated, more than I thought possible considering I never met this “tiny life”. I felt silly because I only learned of what I thought was going to be our baby weeks ago and there I was, on the floor of my Doctors office feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. And it had. I was completely unraveling and there was no sign of saving me. But he saw this and immediately sprang into action to comfort and console. He spent the entire day catering to my every want and need, making sure I was comfortable, full, and distracted by all my favorite movies. We spent the day on the couch, just being. 

But then night came and he became ... well, weird. His behavior changed a bit, almost distant, and he said he was going to shower. I assumed he was just getting ready for bed, until he began picking out and comparing outfits. I asked where he was going, and this familiar question received an even more familiar response; “out”. Now I was trained to not ask questions ... don’t ask the details of “out” because I trusted him, and if I trust him why does he need to explain himself? He’s a grown ass man (duh!). But considering the circumstances my curious mind wanted to know where could be more important than home with me taking in our loss. Wrong question to ask and it brought out a side of him that I never saw coming. 

He became enraged. He began screaming at me, pinned me down on the couch calling me an insecure bitch, spitting on me as the words flew out of his mouth. Now, my standards might’ve been low(ish) but I’ve never been one to take shit. So I shouted right back that I didn’t think leaving me alone through this was fair, and that earned me the first (of many) smacks to the face. I collapsed. I couldn’t believe after the day we had, clinging to each other over our shared devastation, this was happening. Who was he? Who did he become? 

Immediately he stopped himself and fell to the ground hugging me, apologizing repeatedly and promising it will never happen again. Once I was calm, because that was what his touch had always provided, he slowly disappeared out of sight. Next thing I knew he had picked me up, slowly and intimately undressed and kissed me, then placed me in a warm bubble bath, continuing with his apologies. I ate them all up. I thought the miscarriage caused him to lose control, this was a new type of stress for us and we didn’t know how to deal, surely this won’t happen again. He loves me, he’s sorry. And before the tub was empty, he was “out”. 

This became a cycle. Another positive pregnancy test. Another miscarriage. Another beating. Or was it the other way around? It was a blur, it’s hard to say which of the two came first. We were hosting a Labor Day barbecue and by the end of the day I was a bleeding, sobbing mess on my bathroom floor, another miscarriage. He was supportive, then distant, then violent and back again. But, as always he roped me back in. I couldn’t resist him, I really didn’t want to. And before we knew it I was pregnant again, almost immediately. I was cautiously optimistic as the days, then weeks passed by. Finally I was in the clear, out of the first trimester and moving smoothly along to the second. Excitement was setting in. 

13 weeks and 4 days. I planned a dinner with an old friend...without permission. He had reached a new level of “controlling”, choosing my friends for me. My closest ones either barely made or didn’t make the cut at all, and he had even taken it a step further and hand selected who it was acceptable for me to associate with. The friend I planned to have dinner with was not on that list. 13 weeks 4 days, and he flew into a rage after I found the keys that he hid to prevent me from leaving the house. He chased me outside the house barefoot in the middle of January and grabbed me with both arms around my waist yanking me back into the house. He entwined my hair around his hand to drag me and slammed me into any available surface-walls, doors, floors, then wrapped his hands around my throat, giving me a case of laryngitis...or severed vocal chords ... either one. My voice didn’t return for 6 months. 

I never made it to dinner that night. And I didn’t make it to an obstetrician for another 3 weeks for a scheduled ultrasound. My baby was dead. The one that stuck around until the second trimester. That magical place where the threat of miscarriage drops to less than 10%. The one that had a 90 or better percent chance of being born healthy. My second son. Dead. That dinner was supposed to happen at 13 weeks 4 days. Estimated time of fetal demise? My Doctor said 13 weeks 5 days. 

One would think this was enough for me to run. Right? I had my son to think about. Eventually he would notice Mommy’s bruises and busted lips, and the screaming at night was bound to start waking him up. Maybe not though. I was able to convince coworkers the bruises were from a new blood disorder, and besides I did bruise easy, he never meant to hurt me. I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad, and we could work through it. It just continued to get worse. 

Two months later despite my better judgement (there goes my weak radar again) we were still together, walking on eggshells clinging to yet another pregnancy. By now I was scared ... of him, of my body, of the unknown. I was just frail, not myself anymore. I loved him and wanted him, but I also started wanting ME back. After another series of arguments resulting in strangulation, smacking, spitting, slamming, death threats...the list really just goes on; I felt my pregnancy symptoms fade. Little by little I felt less and less nausea and since I was an expert at this I knew I should still have symptoms at 11 weeks 3 days. I drove myself crazy until I was sitting in my doctor’s office begging for an ultrasound. I never told her of the abuse, just said I was worried because of the previous unexplained miscarriages and to just please please please check. She was a saint. With a sigh she grabbed the Fetal Heart Doppler and started searching for my baby’s heartbeat...and found nothing. After 5 minutes of repositioning and then reapplying she called down to imaging and got me in. She knew. As soon as the ultrasound technician got a clear picture she turned the screen away from my view. She wouldn’t answer my questions. She had tears in her eyes, this was her 5th time going through this with me. The doctor confirmed another miscarriage. 

I was inconsolable. Another baby...gone? But was this a sign? Were we just not meant to be? How does this happen? Maybe this was my way out of the relationship. Along with the sadness came some new, unfamiliar feelings. Relief. Then guilt. Because that’s NOT how losing my 5th unborn child should feel. But that’s what I felt. Relieved. 

In contrast, he finally broke. He was devastated. This one brought him to his knees. He sobbed uncontrollably, demanded answers as to how or why this could possibly happen to us again, insisted we didn’t deserve this type of torture. Fast forward to a few days later. The day of my d&c. Outpatient procedure scheduled for a first thing in the morning. This meant a 6am arrival which required early morning childcare. While getting ready, my son mentioned wanting to bring his pillow with him to go back to sleep at the babysitters. For some reason he opposed. At this point I was seriously wallowing in my own despair and barely holding it together but I needed to maintain some sense of peace for my son, and since the rest of my life was so far out of my control, I was determined to at LEAST control this. My son, my rules; the fucking pillow was packed. I got my son settled on the sitter’s couch (with his damn pillow) and kissing him goodbye, I made my way back to the car. It was like walking the green mile. For multiple reasons. I knew he was seething that I opposed him, and by now the abuse was so routine so I knew what to expect, but I figured considering the circumstances, I’d get a pass this time. Wrong. As soon as I strapped my seatbelt he whipped his hand around my neck and slammed my head into his car window, twice. We drove in silence on the way to the hospital. When we arrived I told him to just drop me off at the entrance. I wanted out, I needed out. 

I suppose we didn’t have enough going on, you know with the abuse and miscarriages and now him totally resenting my son due to the loss of his own(s), not that my son wanted anything to do with him now. Adding to that we had some uninvited guests in our already failing relationship. Infidelities. Plural. Checking his phone had pretty much become a part of my daily routine. Well, seek and you shall find right? He insisted that the conversation I read was actually from when his best friends phone died and he had lent him his for a couple hours. Riiiight. Around my sons 5th Birthday I told him to pack his shit and leave, this wasn’t going to work, he’s not what I want. I’m afraid of him and so is my son. Well, not exactly like that. I took the cowards way out-understandably. I asked for space, mostly blamed the miscarriages. The whole “It’s not you, it’s me” thing. It worked, for the most part. 

That was December. I made it through the holidays and around Valentine’s Day, he started contacting me again. He was sorry, he acknowledged his wrong doings, opened up about the miscarriages, pressure from his job. I resisted, because the cheating was something my pride doesn’t let me tolerate. The abuse I could take, but not another woman (women), which of course he continued to deny. But once he said he wanted to be with my son and I whether we could have a baby or not my guard was right back down and he was back in. I agreed to a date after talking on the phone and texting for a couple weeks. Sure enough, by mid-March we were just about in full swing. We were starting over and doing it right this time. He was once again the man he was when we first started dating! Who am I kidding?! He was better. He turned on all the charms to win me back, and I couldn’t be happier. 

After a few months of what appeared to be him proving to have legitimately changed, we were living together again. I was also (surprise) pregnant again-this time with twins. This was our blessing. I always believed that everything happens for a reason and God obviously handed us that platter of disaster to strengthen us and finally he’s giving us what we deserved. 

Or maybe he was just giving me what I deserved after taking this dude back time and time again. Cramping and Bleeding, heavily, in my first trimester caused panic. A 6th miscarriage, just when things were going well??? He was distraught, we both were. But an ultrasound the next morning confirmed 1 very strong heart beat still present. Baby 2 did not make it through the first trimester. Maybe it was natural selection, the weaker baby-which is common. It could have been my body rejecting him or her. Or maybe it was the beating that came when I asked why his ex was FaceTiming his work phone that was kept locked in his car. I guess we will never know. (yes I DID say things were going well...it could be worse, other people have it worse I’d always tell myself). What I did know is that I was ecstatic to still be pregnant, but nervous that it was only a matter of time before the other baby “disappeared” because I knew I’d do something to set him off. After all of the loss I experienced, I needed this baby. But I was petrified of him, of my body, of the cycle. 

The pregnancy progressed and so did we. Family and date nights became a regular occurrence, there were no fights to speak of, and he was just about flying home to be with us by the end of his work days. Things were what should be considered “normal”. The further along the pregnancy progressed the stronger our connection became. I started second guessing the problems in our relationship, blaming myself for all of our previous fights. With his help, I convinced myself that my insecurities stressed him to the max and pushed him away causing such a volatile climate. But hold up, this man was actively cheating and had the nerve to say I was insecure ... and my actions drove him to the above...I digress. At the time, I ate it up. 

Our relationship reached a new level of comfort. We had never been more bonded to one another. He was even mentioning marriage and all the ways he’d profess his love for me at our wedding. It was basketball season so he had to work late...a lot. The kids and I made our expected appearances at his games. Really just making our presence known since he was too “private” to do so himself. 

In spite of many complications and concerns, 40 weeks of fear, we gave birth to a perfect, healthy daughter. He was elated and we quickly outgrew our house. Shortly after my daughter was born we upgraded to a beautiful home in a suburban neighborhood. This allowed more space for the kids to play, a humongous yard and best of all a better school district for my son who was starting 2nd grade. Image was everything to him and we looked good. Perfect home and family, gainful employment, we should’ve been all set. Then some familiar unpleasantries started to pop up. Basketball season required late nights, which I understood. But basketball season ended and his late nights didn’t. As any exhausted mom would, I pointed out his absence and requested more help around the house and with the kids. I’ll let you guess what his response to that was. At one point he tackled my tiny frame onto my daughter’s pack and play, bending the metal bar with my back and then proceeded to shake and strangle me until I was choking on blood from the tooth that cut through my lip. I needed stitches but I didn’t go. How could I explain that? My entire body was covered in bruises, my lip doubled in size, and more red fingerprints stained around my neck. When asked what happened, I said I slipped getting out of the shower. My stories weren’t even believable. 

We were both too stubborn to walk away. I think we might’ve believed that finally having a child together meant we needed to “work through our issues”- issues being infidelity and abuse, neither of which he was showing signs of slowing or stopping. There was enough space between his attacks for me to regroup, blame myself for saying or doing something I shouldn’t have, and convince myself that if I changed my behavior, his organically would too. The more I silenced myself in search of what he wanted me to become the more comfortable he was overpowering my being. I became a shadow of who I was before him, before this. 

I guess a month or so had passed before I got the nerve to ask another touchy question ... (it’s alarming to think of how much I accepted then to avoid a fight). After a trip through his text messages, I asked exactly who was supposed to be reporting to his office to be bent over his desk. It was terribly confusing since the messages appeared to be from his best friend, but of course, when I dialed the number it was not his voice that I got. “She” wouldn’t give her name but was terribly sorry, that he told her we hadn’t been together since before the baby. In our 5 years together this is the first time I actually caught him. Any other time was hearsay and he had an arsenal of excuses that I mostly believed (I had to for my sanity). This time there was hard evidence. No denying it. No excuses. He cheated. I confronted him with the question of “who” and began to tear apart his closet, removing as much of his clothing and shoes from the closet as I could. While doing this I talked the most shit, calling him every type of bitch that existed. Talked about how he was gonna get the fuck up out of my house TONIGHT, even if we went half on bills now...I put down the $4k to move in (draining my entire paltry retirement savings). Having his clothes out of the closet wasn’t enough. I began cutting zippers out of pants ... they were of no use to him anyway, snipped the tongues out of his shoes, then I took my pile of liberation and began chucking everything neatly(ish) across our beautifully manicured lawn. This obviously sent him over the edge. Gripping my throat he single-handedly tossed me back into the house and onto the floor, climbed on top of me, pinning me down and strangling me. All I heard him keep saying was that I was going to die tonight. I was convinced I was. All of this commotion woke my daughter. 

My son was at his dads so I figured once I got my daughter settled and back to sleep we would finish what had just started. As I sat on the couch with my daughter he started going off about not leaving and paying bills too. I wasn’t budging, cheating is my limit and working it out was a definite no. I was positive I was done. My response was simple. I reiterated that he needed to go, I was sorry about his clothes and shoes but he just couldn’t be here anymore. I wasn’t nice about it, I also wasn’t sad about it and I wanted him out. Well that wasn’t an option, he informed me that he wasn’t leaving and that we’d fix it now or die together. These were the threats that didn’t scare me, they should’ve considering how many times I could’ve died in the course of being strangled or having my head slammed into windows, walls, doors etc., but they didn’t. I don’t fully remember what happened leading up to him running and grabbing the knife but before I could move he was there pointing it at me. This was different. He never got this close to me with a knife, and I’m holding our daughter. I immediately realized he was in a new space, one we hadn’t reached before. He had the sharp of the knife pushing into my bellybutton, I started begging, pleading with him to stop, promised to drop it and pretend it never happened. With a look I’ve never seen before he cocked back and plunge. 

Somehow I miraculously blocked the knife from penetrating my stomach with the hand not holding my daughter. Blood was spraying everywhere and began steadily pumping out, he had sliced through my middle finger right down to the bone. He was in shock, just stood there holding the knife. Not me, I immediately began instructing him to get a kitchen towel to apply pressure to the wound, and to call 911 because I could see my bone and blood was pumping out so quickly I was afraid he pierced a vein. Once he called 911 I told him to hurry up and grab some Clorox wipes to clean up the blood spatter. I wiped the blood off my daughter’s forehead while she sat on my lap. She didn’t cry, just watched. I had already called my best friend, I needed someone to sit with my daughter while I went to the hospital. She should be here in a few. I made sure he knew that the story was, “I was washing our new knife set”. Clearly that explains why the entire knife set had toppled over, spread across the entire counter and floor. 

The ambulance located .5 miles away was taking longer than expected. I asked him to call back because my hand was going numb. He said they’d be there and just kept muttering about what happened to HIM- “I’m going to jail, my life is over ... why would you grab the knife?!.”- Well no, you aren’t going to jail. I’d have to actually be smart enough to press charges, and I grabbed the knife? Why did I grab the knife? Did I do this?! All serious questions I was asking myself. I called 911 back and the dispatcher said they never got a call. Never. Got. A. Call. He never called, staged an entire call to 911. Good Lord I swore I was going to die. He must’ve called my daughters God parents (these were people that I grew to love but were from his side) because they showed up right after my friend and the EMT’s. It was obvious I needed stitches and my friend agreed to take me to avoid running up a bill I couldn’t pay with the ambulance. He snuck out right behind the EMT’s, my daughter’s god parents stayed with my daughter, and off to the hospital we went. The whole drive there I was sick, completely disheveled, shaking and shivering over everything that just transpired. 

Lying to the hospital staff in front of my friend was especially difficult. I routinely lied to her about the source of all the bruises and fat lips, not that she’d ask. We’d known each other since we were kids, so she knew I wasn’t nervously biting my lip to the point it swelled as I told her I had, and she also knew there was no blood disorder to speak of. If anything this confirmed all that she had mentally questioned before and I knew that. We didn’t speak about it. But I was finally done with him so I didn’t need to hide this from her. She even went along with my lie about washing the new knife set, not that anyone believed it. This was too fucked up to fix. 

14 hours later he was back home. I didn’t even resist. I needed him to be sorry, for the cheat(s) more than anything. I thought the more resiliency I showed to his violence, the more he’d understand how unconditionally I loved him. Sticking around through that was how I showed him my dedication, my unwavering love. I would love him through this pain until it didn’t hurt anymore. I accepted all the apologies and even offered my own. After all, I was the one that grabbed the knife, he wasn’t REALLY going to stab me, right? We were “fine” for about a week and then things really started to unravel. Well they continued to, rather, just more aggressively, I guess.

Conversation was strained to the point of almost nonexistence. For the most part we didn’t talk at all unless we happened to be in the house at the same time and even then it was just a quick, “can you sit with the baby” or “your plate is in the microwave” (yes I was still feeding him, I just wanted shit to be “normal” again). Text updates, check-ins and quick “hi” phone calls stopped entirely. Somehow I was clinging to him more than I ever had. I still craved and even begged for his attention. It was sick-almost like an addiction. A habit I couldn’t (wouldn’t) kick. We still pretended to enjoy sex with one another but I usually had other things on my mind the whole time. Little things like where exactly his dick spent its time during the day, who the woman was that he was bending over his desk, was he even there with me or was he fantasizing about “her”-or even worse a different “her”. Still, I refused to let this fail.

By this time things, had come to a boil with my son and he began confiding in his school social worker-a nice lady working in a very suburban (translation: with almost no racial diversity) school. She called me a couple times with concerns (most of which she had likely never encountered, but secretly expected from us), all of which I brushed off as him being a sensitive kid and not liking or understanding even the slightest conflict. I described the conditions in my home as minor and being addressed, knowing full well they weren’t. Back then I thought my son was oblivious to what was happening-at least that’s what I told myself. He was only 4... (then 5 and 6). But ushering him into his room right before I tasted blood wasn’t protecting him from anything. I know he heard the screaming and house shaking. He wasn’t oblivious at all. I was making MYSELF oblivious to his awareness. He’s always been smart, curious and intuitive. Of course he knew. I am just now imagining how afraid he must have been. He began talking about God. Saying prayers. Having nightmares. Well, shit, he was living a nightmare. It’s so hard for me to realize how terrified he must have been with visions of his mother dying constantly in his head. I didn’t protect him. My one job as his mother was making my son feel safe. And I was failing miserably.

The phone calls from the school happened more frequently and it terrified me. I had no choice but to admit to some of the accusations, letting the social worker know things were indeed out of hand but that I was working on alternate living arrangements. Either he was leaving or I was leaving and I’d update soon. He decided he was staying put, so I started apartment hunting. I called and saw a few, but then my daughters God mother let me know about an apartment I could get into within the next week. Out of courtesy I’d let him know I found something-even though it wasn’t yet solidified. Maybe this was when he’d be sorry, and really mean it. This is when we would fix things, right before we lose it all. He was non-plussed. He acted like I told him the sun came out that day. Unaffected. I was disappointed at his lack of reaction and then disgusted with myself at how pathetic I became. All of my happiness and security was dependent on him. Not myself or my accomplishments, not my two beautiful children but this man who didn’t value an ounce of my being.

On Black Friday I planned to drop the kids off at daycare and get some shopping done. Before leaving the house, I had made arrangements to meet with the new landlord. I guess his lack of reaction at the initial mention of moving out was him calling my bluff. He knew me well enough to know that when I mentioned it before I was just testing the waters, but the fact that I was really taking action and going through with this threw him off. I loaded the kids up in the car and was in the process of strapping my daughter in when he jumped into the driver’s seat and put the car in reverse, stomping on the gas. I was barely able to make it into the car and shut the door before he took off down our driveway. He was yelling that we were all going to die together, I tried pleading with him while holding on to both of my screaming babies. I sneak texted
one of my closest friends and told her what was happening, gave her my location and asked her to please be on alert. I told him the cops were on their way. They weren’t, of course as I instructed my friend not to call and I knew she wouldn’t. Somehow I was still protecting him while he was driving maniacally and threatening me and my children’s lives. Remembering and retelling this story, I hate that version of myself, she was weak and pathetic. Finally the car was stopped in our driveway and he got out of the car without a word. I couldn’t move. I just sat in the backseat hugging my babies. My son was shaking, this had to end now. 

But of course it wouldn’t. He emerged from the house with a knife to his own neck, standing in the doorway of the garage. Crying and saying he would stab himself in the neck if I broke up our family. Because obviously I was the one who broke up our family. Not the man who barely acknowledged my existence since he got caught cheating, who only touched me sexually or violently but no longer intimately, who resented my first child and took away 6 of my babies. It was all my fault. And he was going to kill himself if I left. Truth be told, he was going to kill me if I stayed … and if he didn’t I might’ve done it myself. I reached a new low the time I considered starting the car and not opening the garage door. I was tired. Not just energy drained tired. I was physically, mentally and emotionally mangled and I reached my “enough is enough”. The only way I could be what my children needed was to force myself out of this miserable and dangerous cycle. I left, mostly because I knew without question my son was going to report that whole incident to his school and my children would’ve surely been ripped from their home. I was not providing a safe living environment. That fear saved us. Good parents make better decisions than I was, and I wanted to be a great parent. We left and never looked back. It’s been 362 days since I signed a lease and fled. A couple of affordable apartments in very undesirable neighborhoods failed for various reasons and here I am, back at my mom’s house. Reflecting, counting my blessings that we survived this ordeal and eating a serious slice of humble pie. We are continuing to work on co-parenting our daughter, and have made strides but still have a long way to go. He doesn’t quite get the concept but we will get there. Thanks to my unrelenting (read: foolish) love, his life and career remained unharmed and unchanged, and he has even had some new successes as there are no police reports detailing any of our past. I, on the contrary am beginning the difficult process of rebuilding mine and my children’s shattered lives from the ground up. Changed careers, learned and began changing things about myself, raised my fucking standards for men, reestablished some sort of trust and normalcy for my son, set some goals for myself and wrote my story.

If given the opportunity, I’m sure he would tell a very different tale. He wouldn’t tell of the beatings, only of my insane jealousy, my desperation to keep him home at all times, the times I’d block the door to keep him from leaving and he had no choice but to defend himself, the times I packed his clothes up after he “fell asleep at his moms” or some other fantasy he would try to feed me. And it’d be true. Because I was a fighter. And I was fighting for us. I was fighting for his love. I was fighting to NOT be what we were. What I was. It’s funny how there are so many different versions of the truth. My version includes scars-both physical and emotional, falsified medical records, and dead babies, though. This is MY truth.

Registration is open - Take Steps in Their Shoes 2018!

How to register for Take Steps in Their Shoes 2018 and start your fundraiser

 

It’s back! Take Steps in Their Shoes, our major fundraising event, returns on Saturday, October 6, and we are so excited to announce that registration is now OPEN.

The cost to participate is $35 – that fee will grant you access to walk with us, attend the after-party at ArtsRiot, listen to the powerful survivor storytelling session and bid on really cool items in the silent auction.

BUT – that’s not all! Those who register are also highly encouraged to host their own online fundraiser. Trust us, it is super easy to do, and a lot of fun. This is your opportunity to talk about why you’re participating and what you want to share with others about the fight to end domestic violence.

Are you not around on October 6? We’ll miss you, but that’s ok… you can still donate and hold a fundraiser!

Keep reading to learn about the few easy steps to get up and running:

 

1. Visit the official Take Steps in Their Shoes website: www.stepsvt.org/take-steps

 
2.
Click “REGISTER/FUNDRAISE”


3. This will take you to our Givelively profile – they are safe, secure and really great to use.


4. Register for $35 or donate the amount you’re able to if you can’t participate in person.


5. Click “I want to fundraise for this” – enter in your own story, and share!

That’s it! Couldn’t be quicker or easier.

Please note, though, that your friends can register through your personal page ONLY if they select the register button - those who choose the "I can't make it on Oct. 6" option are not considered registered to attend, though their donation will still make a huge difference! 

If you get stuck, email our Development and Communications Manager Jessie Forand at jessf@stepsvt.org or call her at (802) 658-3131 X 1063 – she created her own fundraiser already and can help walk you through it.

Sign up, share out and we’ll have a great time on October 6!

He didn’t like the strong and independent woman I became

This is a real story, from a real survivor. Please note potential triggers in this piece.


I was so happy when I found someone who was so good to me. I fell for him instantly and we were engaged before our one-year anniversary. Things were falling into place after moving to a new state. I was never this happy...

...and then to have the person who you share a life with just turn on you.

I was so excited when he took me to the city to see the sights only to find out that we went deep into the city so he could meet his drug dealer. I was so angry and scared.

I wasn’t sure what to think the first time he yelled and punched a hole in the wall next to my face. I think I was just in shock.

I told his parents what he did to me. They talked to him the first time but after that they wouldn’t talk to him anymore. They just accepted his behavior. He was a spoiled only child. His Dad abused his mother. She stayed with him all these years. Like father like son! My ex husband was just like his father an alcoholic.

He never hit me, came close multiple times. It was more yelling, grabbing, pushing, and threatening me with weapons. His temper got worse when he was drinking and doing drugs. I was truly scared and worried that he might really hurt or kill me.

I heard so many “I love you,” “I’m sorry it will never happen again,” “ please forgive me”

After I caught him doing drugs again is when he pulled a gun on me. I just stood in shock and after he left I just fell to the floor and cried.

“The control an abuser has over a victim is very strong”

My life was gone living with him and I did what he wanted when he wanted. It was only when I stood up to him that he hurt me. But I felt so much stronger when I stood up to him. I knew when to be quiet and not escalate the problem.

After arguing with him I went to church. It was a safe place I knew he wouldn’t follow me to. I cried and met with a priest. I never wanted to go home I always found a place to disappear to for a while.

It was hard sleeping in the same room not knowing if I would wake up the next day. We went to therapy to try and work things out but he blamed me for everything. Not one thing could be his fault and after years of being together he didn’t like the strong and independent woman I became.

He hated the fact that I wouldn’t wait on him. He expected everything to be handed to him on a silver platter and not work for anything. After years of being hurt, threatened and scared I thought this couldn’t be it.

So many people asked me “Why didn’t I leave sooner” People don’t understand how difficult it is to just walk away. It’s very dangerous and sometimes impossible.

Why stay and live this life. I made the hardest decision and left him. I wanted so much for my life and wasn’t sure I’d survive to live that life.

He knew lots of people and was friends with a neighbor who was a cop. I knew my options were limited and going to the police or a shelter was not the option for me.
I knew him well and that was to my advantage. I planned my escape for months and moved out of state. It took along time for me to get my life back!

My life now is great! My ex husband is no longer around to hurt me. I’m completely safe!
There is a part of me that will never forget. I still have fears that I’m working to overcome, but each day is better.

I’m a survivor and hoping that people in similar situations can realize that there is always a way out! You don’t have to live your life scared.
 

To share your story, click here.

I need to go home

NOTE: The following could be a true story. It could be any of us. And in fact, we are currently working to help someone afford a plane ticket to flee abuse and reconnect with their support system out of state.

What we need is you – if you’re able to help, even with $25, please visit our donate page and be sure to include AIRPLANE in the comments so we know how to use it.

UPDATE: The person who inspired this story has made it home! And we have created an earmarked fund specifically to help with travel issues - be they a tank of gas or a plane ticket - as they arise. Contribute to that any time by listing TRANSPORTATION FUND on the memo of your donation. 

 

I never planned to live here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. The leaves in the fall, the snow, the sometimes-sunny days.

But this wasn’t my choice.

When we met, he swept me off my feet. I’ve always protected my heart, but something in my gut told me he was different. After months and months of talking about it, we decided moving here was the best thing for us. But soon after, us turned into him.

We’ve all read about power and control, but until you’ve lived it you just can’t understand. I have no friends, I have no family. Not here anyway. We do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. If I object, there goes the rest of the day.

“I brought you here, you should be grateful.”

“They never cared about you anyway.”

“Without me you’re nothing.”

Deep inside I know these things aren’t true. But after hearing them so many times, it’s hard to remind myself of that.

Isolation is one of the most common ways abusers control us. By making us feel alone, and over time creating a reality around that, they insert themselves as our only option. Without them we can’t buy groceries, can’t make rent, the list goes on and on… and on.

And my support system, my "people," they're so far way.

Getting home is all I want, all I need. I secretly look up plane ticket prices. Flight times. Layovers. But… his name is on the bank account. It would be easier that way, he said, I obviously would have access to everything. But I don’t.

My parents try to help, they really do. But they’re not wealthy. Besides, he checks the mail, not me. If they sent money, I don’t really think I’d ever know.

We Skype sometimes, but we’re never truly alone. They worry, I tell them not to. I want to protect them, and I want to go home to them. To pretend this never happened and just start fresh.

But… I can’t afford it.

Help me get home

Interning at Steps to End Domestic Violence

Bessie, Development and Communications Intern, here! Today is my last day interning at Steps, and I am feeling some type of way. As I gear up for graduation, I have a lot to be thankful for, but one of the things I am most thankful for is the opportunity to work with such an empowering organization.

At the risk of sounding totally cliche: when I initially applied to intern at Steps, I felt like I was supposed to be here; it made sense to me that I should be helping those who have been made to feel small because I have been made to feel small myself -- both as a woman and as a survivor of teen domestic violence. Still, I didn’t know then what a huge impact this experience would have on me both professionally and personally.

I have learned so much about domestic violence - about the signs to look for, about its commonplace, its impact, and about the resources and support systems out there for folks who have been affected by DV. My own misconceptions have been cleared up, and I’ve learned how to talk about domestic violence--with my friends, with young people, with survivors, and with my community. I have learned so much about DV, but I’ve learned about myself, too, and I’m walking away with an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward everybody I connected with along the way.

One of my responsibilities in this role was to correspond with survivors to help them share their stories. I will admit I was nervous about reaching out to survivors; how do you ask somebody to share some of the most traumatic and heartbreaking moments of their life with you? To be vulnerable in this way is one of the most courageous acts I know, and it has been an absolute honor working with these lionhearted people.

I have been so in awe of these survivors’ resilience, openness, and determination to empower others while healing through writing. So to the survivors I connected with: I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your experience with me and with our community. Your voice matters, and you have made a difference.

I have seen just how vital a resource Steps to End Domestic Violence is, and I am so thankful to all who have kept its doors open. I am so glad to have been a part of this organization even for such a short amount of time, and I encourage everybody to support an organization whose mission they can stand behind.

There are over 4,000 nonprofits in Vermont alone so get involved--donate a meal, volunteer to be a hotline advocate, be a mentor, go to a benefit concert. I promise it will change your life for the better and more importantly: you WILL make a difference.

I am better for this experience, and I will always be an advocate. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Rollercoaster

The following piece was written by a survivor to empower those affected by domestic violence. Please note potential triggers. 

So, you’re out! You’re either in a shelter, at a family or friends house, or maybe even the hospital. But, this time you know you aren’t going back. Whether it was, emotional, financial, physical abuse, or all three- you have escaped. The abuse has lasted for years, or this may be the first time- regardless you should feel so relieved, right? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, this is a perfectly normal feeling, in a long, confusing list of emotions you will experience and question as you put the pieces of your life back together.

For many, leaving is the most difficult and terrifying thing a victim will do, even more terrifying than living with an abuser. With your abuser, you often knew what to expect. You may have identified a pattern, cycle, or triggers that you knew would set off the abuse. But, now that you are out- life is far more unpredictable. While each person has different situations, some have children, pets, no money, no place to go, or family to call. Each victim will feel the same feelings and emotions, not necessarily in the same sequence, degree, or amount of time- but each victim takes a ride on the emotional roller coaster.

Some are scared, unsure where they will sleep, afraid of retaliation from the abuser, and fearful that they can’t make it on their own. You may be worried, not just about yourself and your children, but what about him? Is he in jail, is he suicidal again, is he furious at you? You may also be angry - angry at yourself for worrying about him, or for staying as long as you did. Angry at him for putting you in the position you are in, letting you down, or hurting you. You may feel sad, for so many reasons, maybe you had to leave your house and your belongings and uproot yourself and possibly your children into a shelter or an unfamiliar environment. You may be sad because your kids no longer have a two-parent home, or you miss your abuser, because not all times were bad. Ending an abusive relationship is like breaking up on steroids. Just like other relationships, you suffer the loss of love, the loss of hope you had for the future, and then you get mad at yourself for missing someone who hurt you so much.

Some days will be better than others. Some days you will want to go back, but reminding yourself that things don’t change, that you deserve better, and remembering why you left in the first place- can help you get through the day. Every day starts over, with support, self-care, surrounding yourself around others who understand what you have been through, and learning to love yourself again, the roller coaster will begin to slow down. You are not alone, shelters, hotlines, counselors, medication, groups, and a wide variety of community resources are available for the sole purpose of helping victims take back their lives.

The Dangers of Strangulation

The following piece was written by a survivor of domestic violence to educate others about the dangers of strangulation within intimate partner relationships. Please note potential triggers. 

Things got physical again, this time it was a little different, or maybe it was something that had happened before. During the struggle he grabbed your neck, it scared you- you were worried that you may die. You don’t think you passed out, and he said he only choked you a bit, there were no marks afterwards- so maybe he was right, you over-reacted? You feel like there is no reason to call the police or go to the hospital- if there are no marks then there is no injury, and no one would believe you anyways, right? Your throat is a little hoarse, but it only lasts that way for a bit. Just like previous times, he apologizes, and you believe him that it won’t happen again. Like millions of other victims who have gone through similar situations, you let it go…but what you don’t know, could very well end up killing you.

Through strangulation, a strong message can be portrayed by the abuser. Most victims fear for their lives, yet when the abuser lets go, the victim is often assured that if the abuser wanted to kill them he would have. Strangulation is one of the most dangerous forms of control in a domestic violence relationship. The abuser is able to prove to the victim that not only do they have control over their lives, but over every breath they take. They have the ability to take the victims life, and the fear and risk often creates a submissiveness in the victim that encourages the abuser to continue to use the tactic in future incidents.  

What most victims don’t know, is that when an abuser grabs their neck, puts them in a choke hold, or covers their mouth so they are unable to breath, they are being strangled, not choked. Choking happens from inside, when you choke on food or a foreign object, it blocks your passage of breathing. Once the object is out, you can breathe again, with little difficulties.  However, strangling also stops the ability for air to escape your body, but includes many more risks, ones that can occur long after the strangulation ends.

Often one of the first things victims (and abusers) do after a physical incident is check for injuries. However, only 50% of those that have been strangled show any sign of external injuries, and of those 50% that do, 15% of them can’t even be seen using a camera. Those that do show visible signs have neck bruising or “Petechiae spots” (small spots that can show on the victim’s neck, earlobes, and scalp). Often these are so light or hidden from view that they are rarely noticed. The lack of marks give both the victim and the abuser a false sense of risk and potential injury. So many people believe in the fact that if you can’t see something, then it isn’t serious.  

It is the internal impacts of strangulation that most victims, and even trained first response professionals are not aware of. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some common symptoms of strangulation include; a sore or hoarse throat, difficulty breathing, ringing ears, dizziness, nausea, agitation, PTSD, sleep problems, and vision problems (temporary or permanent). In addition, the lack of oxygen can cause miscarriages, loss of consciousness, memory loss, incontinence (meaning that your organs have begun to fail), injuries to your larynx or arteries- which can lead to dissected arteries, blood clots, stroke, and ultimately immediate or delayed death.

Non-fatal strangulation is becoming an important topic of medical research, professional training, and legal changes. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says that 1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence within their lifetime, out of those-  67% will experience non-fatal strangulation. Loss of consciousness and death can occur within minutes, making strangulation one of the biggest predictors of domestic violence homicide. Victims are ten times more likely to die by the hands of their abuser, once a victim is strangled, it is common for the strangulation to continue and worsen. Victims rarely seek or are able to seek medical attention after being strangled, resulting in irreversible injuries and increased fatalities. It is imperative that all victims, regardless of the lack of visible wounds find a way to seek medical attention, and explain all details and symptoms of the strangulation.



 

New Toothbrush

The following story was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

Every nine seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten. I wasn’t going to wait another nine to get out of that house. 69% of family violence against a son or daughter takes place at the victim’s home. Like the rest of the 40% of family violence victims that don’t report the incident to the police, I instead arranged to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for a few days to get out of dodge.

“Try to have a level-headed conversation with your mom. Explain that your house isn't a safe place anymore and that you need to spend some time away for everyone to cool off. I’ll meet you at the end of your driveway in fifteen minutes.” My father had taken my phone, computer, and power (having pulled the breaker to my room), so we were relying on one short phone call to make it all work smoothly. Of course it didn’t.

I haphazardly packed a bag for the next few days, went downstairs at 4pm for the first time since the night before, and walked into my mother’s office. I knew it was the perfect time - a contractor was inspecting the outside of the house with my father - there couldn’t be a scene. “Mum, I’m leaving the house for a few days. It isn’t safe -” “NO!” she screamed. “You stay right there, you aren’t walking out this door.” My fight or flight instinct revved, and I was out the door before she could stand up. She clawed at my arms, leaving red welts and spilling my toothbrush onto the tiled foyer floor that I’d hit just as hard the night before. I felt ungainly, childish, as I ran to the end of the driveway and stopped, panicked, hoping that at any minute John’s black four-runner would come over the top of the hill. But with a growing sense of dread I knew he wasn’t coming. Not for another ten-odd minutes, because we had allowed for a level-headed conversation.

“Liam! Liam!” my mother screamed, and I wasn’t waiting around for him to come around the corner of the barn. I bolted down the street, no idea where I was going. There he was, right behind me, asking in a sickly sweet fatherly voice, “Where are you going hun?”. Where was I going? I started pacing at the entrance to the state forest, waiting in desperation for that car. “I’m leaving, I can’t be here, it’s not safe…” The words gushed out like a mental patient’s rant. I was crying, I was shaking, I was so confused. “Why don’t you come home?” Why the fuck do you think I’m not coming home? I was dead-armed, aching, welted, scared.

I wasn’t thinking. “Why would you run into the woods of all places?” John asked. I suppose it was because the woods have always been a safe place to me, full of friends and beauty. I jogged pitifully down the path, shaking and screaming and telling him to stay back. All those packs of cigarettes made it slow going. He skipped behind me. When I ran, he ran, and when I walked, he walked. Taunting me with memories of better times, he crooned: “Come on, let’s make some tea and talk about it. Where are you going? Hun, you know there are repercussions when you stay out late”. I knew it was to keep me quiet. I felt like a wailing child hurt by another on the playground, being begged and shushed in the bully’s nervous anticipation of the arrival of a teacher.

It was the longest twenty minutes of my life. After a time, he grew tired of his ruse and got angry. He told me that John was destined for jail, and that perhaps a little ass rape would “straighten him out”. He sang of my accomplishments, rewrote parts of my childhood into an idyllic Norman Rockwell story, chastised me for coming home late. Never once did he mention slamming my head against the wall, wrenching my arm and throwing me to the floor, banging me off the walls all the way up to my bedroom like a sick game of Pong. He still hasn’t, and neither has my mother, who witnessed it all.

Just as we were approaching the end of the forest, a man was jogging into it, visibly perplexed by my now hoarse screams. My head pounded, my lungs seized. “Please help me” I begged, swerving to intercept his path. Why wasn’t he stopping? “Is this your father?” “Yes and he assaulted me, please help!” “Hey Liam! Kids…” and, shaking his head, he jogged on. I’ve never felt so alone. It was worse than the series of nightmares I used to have that Nazis were chasing me across an endless snow-covered field.

As I ran clear into the yard of the house across the street, my mind suddenly alerted me that I was trespassing - as if it mattered. I was still screaming the whole way, and a woman walked out of the horse barn and told me to get inside. She then called the police as I explained to her who was standing awkwardly at the entrance to the woods across the street. In a quiet moment of childlike comfort, I stroked the nose of a brilliantly white horse and cried harder than I had at any other time during the initial and subsequent events.

I watched my father be handcuffed and pushed down into a cruiser, just like on COPS, and then I too got into a cruiser and was whisked away to John’s, where his mother buried my face in her chest for the onslaught of tears, standing in the rain on his back porch. When the officer told her I had been a victim of domestic assault, all she said was “I’m not the least bit surprised”. She always knew, and I never knew she knew until that moment. Not letting on that she knew was the nicest thing she could have done for those four years.

I saw my mother in the fifteen-minute window I had to collect my life’s possessions from the house, throwing everything out the third story window as if flames were engulfing the building. Everything that made it out is in my dorm room now, and it’s all I have. After she saw me, she called to break down crying and promise to still pay for college because I “deserve that experience”. Knowing my mother, it was to preserve her upper-middle-class status within her book group.

The following month was chaos. A detective took photographs of my injuries. I took out a restraining order against my father. I filed in small claims court to retrieve the money from my savings account. John’s parents paid for a lawyer and a new toothbrush. And then, it all died down. I was a college freshman, just like everyone else, except I was homeless.

60% of domestic violence victims show signs of depression, and suicide rates greatly increase after such incidents. I may have to drop out of school to avoid mooching off friends or returning home and having to apologize for the financial strain my involving the police created for my family. That was the incident that made me an adult, and being an adult sure is depressing.

 

The author of this story has since completed college and graduate school, and works as a teacher and mentor to young women in her field. 

Probably Just

 

The following poem was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

 

My mother says, “I know you can do better”

But she probably just doesn’t like the way you look.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My sister says, “He wouldn’t be a responsible partner”

But she probably just thinks you party too hard.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My grandma says, “Are you sure he’s the one?”

But she probably just thinks you’re too poor.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My best friend says, “You need to choose yourself first”

But she’s probably just jealous, and wishes you were hers.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

Your sister says, “Be careful with him”

But she probably just thinks her brother can do better.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

Your ex says, "Don't believe him, he'll cheat on you too".

But she probably just hasn't gotten over you leaving her for me.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My neighbor says, “Are you sure you’re safe?”

But she probably just doesn’t like to hear our kinky sex.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My therapist says, “It’s your childhood abandonment issues”

But she’s probably just projecting her own trauma.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My gynecologist says, “Reproductive choice is your right”

But she probably just thinks I’m too young to have children.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My boss says, “Is everything okay at home?”

But she probably just doesn’t want me to be late for work.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My doctor says, “It’s not love, it’s just oxytocin”

But she probably just doesn’t understand feelings.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My teacher says, “That doesn’t sound healthy”

But she’s probably just being overprotective as her job.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My landlord says, “Are you sure you want him here?”

But she’s probably just worried about the utility bill.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

The triage nurse says, “He’ll die of alcoholism soon”

But she’s probably just fear-mongering to make more money.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

The woman on the street says, “Is this guy bothering you?”

But she probably just doesn’t get that I said something wrong.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My old journals say, “Don’t fall into this again”

But I was probably just young and angry then.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My brain tells me, “This is harmful, it has to end”

But it’s probably more important to listen to my heart.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My heart asks me, “Are you sure?”

And I realized that I haven’t asked myself...

Because I think I love you, but do you really love me too?

 

I thought, “I know what love looks like”

But it probably doesn’t look like this.

Because I love you, but I don’t think you do.

 

You say to me, “Fine, I’m leaving right now”

But it’s probably not going to work this time.

Because I’m onto you, and I think you know it too.

 

I used to say, “Please don’t go, I’m sorry”

Because it was probably just my fault

Because I loved you, and I thought you loved me too.

 

So today I say, “See ya later”

But it’s probably just “goodbye”.

Because I love me.

Making a monthly difference

Becoming a sustaining supporter keeps us running

 

Did you know it costs more than $800 per day to operate our shelter? That is nearly $300,000 every year.

And - did you know about $5,350 per year is spent to provide food for adults and children in our emergency housing programs – that equates to $446 each month.

There are so many moving parts in our organization, including costs that many of us don’t think about – because we don’t have to think about - that are needed to keep our services available. And as we grow, so do costs. 

So… what is the point of all this?

You!

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We are so happy to have you – our supporters - as part of our team. You make our work possible because when we’re spending less time worrying about money, we can focus our efforts on those who use our services, ensuring their safety and happiness.

Your monthly support is essential because it helps us where we need it most, when we need it most.

Some months it might be printing costs for educational materials, others it may be maintenance projects at shelter or helping with rental assistance for someone starting the next chapter of their lives.

Instead of making a single gift once a year, you can make the same, vital impact in a budget-friendly, ongoing monthly gift.

How?

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1.) Online – It’s a 2-minute process, we swear. Enter your credit card number on our secure donation page at stepsvt.org/donate, choose “monthly” to make it recurring, and enter the number of months you’d like it to repeat. Done!

2.) Mail – Have you received a donation envelope from us in the mail recently? Just fill that out with your credit card information and check the monthly option, then you’ll be good to go.

3.) Call us – We love speaking with you on the phone! If you’re unsure which option is best for you, or would like to talk about an automatic checking account withdrawal, just call us at (802) 658-3131 to speak to a staff member who can help.

It really is that simple!

Thank you for helping us do what we do. Because of you, thousands of people each year receive the help they need to escape violence and stand strong, independent and safe. 

 

Ambulance

 

The following story was written by a domestic violence survivor. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

I met my abuser when we were high school, we instantly became best friends, he was my protector, the one person that would never, ever hurt me. I felt safe with him, safer than I did with anyone else. When I was upset, I would run to him. I would have never believed that one day I would run from him, or instead of feeling safe by his side, I would grow to fear him.

I didn’t just miss the signs of a potentially abusive relationship… I literally missed the sign he was holding. I knew all of these things about him, the people he had hurt in prior relationships, the intense view of women being inferior to men, and how quickly he could lose his temper. But, in my mind, I was the exception- I could talk him down from being mad, believed that his girlfriends just weren’t right for him, or that even if he saw women in a negative way, it was only because he had been hurt by them. I made excuses for his actions the entire time I knew him, including after the relationship turned abusive, where I would blame the drugs, drinking, stress, past relationships, and myself for the things he did to me. I honestly believed I was the different, when in fact I was only another victim.

From early on, I was convinced that we were meant to be, he said I was the one thing he wanted his whole life, to me, he was my happily ever after.

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I thought we would be together forever. But last year, we parted ways, him in a police car, and me in an ambulance.

The details of the past several years are blurry to say the least, partly because I don’t want to remember, and partly because I had learned to disassociate so I didn’t have to remember. I would close my eyes when he had his hands around my neck so I wouldn’t have to see the intense hatred and anger that were in his. I knew he was really mad, when his eyes would change, he would become almost unrecognizable. Each incident was relatively similar, to the point that I would know what to expect. the details were often different, but the events were almost always the same.

He would always go for my neck, sometimes holding on to it quickly while yelling that he would kill me, other times holding me down, and holding it with both hands till I was sure that this was the time he would hold it too long. So much would go through my mind when he was strangling me, sometimes I worried about him, and what would happen after I died- would he have meant to? Or was it just to prove that he could control every breath I took? I would often think about the kids, and how they would lose both of us- if I were to die. And…when I think I was closest to passing out, I thought about just letting go, stop fighting- but I didn’t want to die, and it was my natural reaction to fight for my life- yelling even though no sound came out, and wasting breath that I desperately needed. This often went on for hours.

He would take my keys, the credit card he gave me, and my phone so I couldn’t call for help- and that was all in case I was able to get out of the house, which he almost always was successful of making sure I couldn’t do. He had me convinced that if I called the police that I would end up in jail, that my kids would be taken away and that if I did manage to send him to jail he would only come out angrier. He would tell me that I couldn’t make it on my own.

 I eventually believed him that it was my fault, that I was crazy, and deserved it- because after all -I never seemed to do anything, right? So, even though during those times, I wanted to escape- I was terrified to, and I was convinced that no one was going to help me, I had nowhere to go, and no way to get there…this was my life, and I had to just accept it. It even became natural for me to hide bruises on my arms, telling the kids I was cold in the middle of summer, that I once again clumsily hit my eye on one thing or another, or that my throat was hoarse because of allergies.

So, why did I stay? So many people ask me that, and until they are in that situation there is nothing I can say that would help them understand. After the abuse, we would be happier, and he loved me, and I loved him- it was as if it had never happened. We would spend more time together as a family, cuddle more, play games…when things were good, they were so good. During those times, I had renewed hope that we could do it, we could be that happily ever after that I so desperately thought we would have. I let myself believe that this time it would change, the abuse would stop- and we could be the family we were “meant” to be. Domestic violence is a vicious, cycle, and I would fall right back into it every single time.

On the day we parted ways, the police arrived, it was chaos- I was convinced I was going to jail, and I wouldn’t see my kids again. I was terrified, because I knew just how mad he was going to be when he got out. I was examined by the paramedics, and then asked if I had “wet”- my pants, embarrassed I let them know that I had. It was then that I found out just how close to death I had been- that day and so many times within the last several years. Urinating meant I was losing control of my organs, and dangerously near death. They convinced me I needed to go to the hospital.

In the ambulance, I did what I hadn’t been able to do for a very long time, I reached out to my family, whom I had lost contact with for nearly the entire duration of my relationship. They were amazing, they came to the hospital and sat with me while I talked with victim advocates, police detectives, and eventually the trauma surgeon. I was admitted into the hospital for an injury to my neck, that required observation and the long-term use of blood thinners to reduce the risk of a stroke.

Since that day, my life has been focused on providing some sort of normalcy for my children, and myself. The kids and I are on a protective order and visitations are supervised. However, the slow, and sometimes stagnant pace of the justice system has made it difficult to move forward in a system that requires me to relive every moment of the events in my past, the ones I have tried so hard to forget. The expectations, lack of communication, and surprising power that my ex-abuser still has over so many decisions baffles me.

Many life-altering events have taken place since last year, turning a life that I had settled on accepting abuse, to one that I have chosen to help others escape and recover from theirs, mainly through my writing.  I have learned I am not the only one on this roller coaster. I can take an experience that has broken me down, and use it to help bring others in the same situations up. Some days are harder than others, some nights bring little to no sleep, and some days leave me mourning the loss of a relationship- that even I don’t understand. But, every day is a new day, through the support of others, learning how to take back the control that was taken from me, and realizing that I can make a difference.

Because I am a survivor and my story matters.

 

Torn

 Everyone's story is different. The following is a true story from a survivor. 

I met my son’s father four years ago. When we first started spending time together, he told me about all of the bad things that had happened to him; he had been mistreated by people his whole life. I didn’t want to be another one of those people. I wanted to show him there are good people out there. I wanted to show him I was one of them.

The abuse started early. I thought maybe he was just going through something since he had been through so much already. But that was only the beginning. He would be loving one minute and abusive the next. I was torn; I wanted to leave because he was hurting me, but I wanted to stay to help him get through whatever it was he was going through, too.

He used my fears and insecurities against me. Everything I shared with him he turned into ammo. He didn’t ask questions because he wanted to learn about me - he just wanted to know what he could use to hurt me. Everything I told him I didn’t want to happen, he made happen. And he blamed me for everything.

Every time he hit me or yelled at me, he told me it was my fault.

When I got my own apartment, he came to live with me. As a result of the abuse, I lost my job, apartment, and car. I had to move back in with my mom, and he came with me because he didn’t want to be apart. A lot of people lived at my mom’s house, and he would constantly say insulting things about my family and our living situation; I told him he could leave if he didn’t like it.

But he stayed.

One night, we got in a fight there. He beat me up and slammed my head on the door. My brother and sister pulled him off of me. I had a huge lump on my head that kept growing through the night. My mom cried because the lump was so big. She told him he had to leave, and he told her my dad would have to shoot him. Eventually, his friend convinced him to go.

I thought having a baby would change things. But it didn’t make a difference. While I was pregnant, he dragged me through my apartment, hit me and choked me. His mom never helped me. Actually, she said I should have had an abortion. She thought I liked fighting with him, that I instigated every argument we ever had. I told her, “why would you like fighting with someone when you think they might kill you?”

One time, I was trying to leave him outside of his grandmother’s house in front of my 5 year old and 7 month old. He ripped my clothes and beat me up. I  tried to leave, and he followed me down the street. I asked his mom for help, to keep him away from me or to give me a ride somewhere else but she wouldn’t help. Eventually, I threatened to call the police, and he left me alone.

I felt like I was under his spell. Honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to leave.

Now, I can see how dangerous it all was. I was following my heart. I wanted him to change, but somewhere deep down, I knew he wouldn’t. I am safe now. Sometimes, he still calls me to tell me he misses me, but I don’t fall for that anymore.

I know I am better off without him.

 

6 Common Misconceptions about Teen Dating Violence

By Bessie McManus, Development + Communications Intern 

As we settle into the New Year, we reflect on how far we’ve come in the last 365 days, and we make notes of our New Year's Intentions. One of our intentions around the office at Steps to End Domestic Violence is not only to continue raising awareness of DV in all its forms, but also to clear up any misunderstandings about it because the issue is complex and can be confusing.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, or TDVAM, and we’re here to speak to some of the common misconceptions surrounding this very real problem:

 

 According to  loveisrespect.org , 1 in 3 teens will experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by a partner. Abuse is traumatic and has serious adverse effects on survivors as they navigate adolescence and enter into adulthood.

According to loveisrespect.org, 1 in 3 teens will experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by a partner. Abuse is traumatic and has serious adverse effects on survivors as they navigate adolescence and enter into adulthood.

 While we may not experience the same emotional rollercoasters as teens, these feelings are real and throwing young romance into the mix adds another stressor. Dr. Wyndol Furman, an editor of The Development of Romantic Relationships in Adolescence, refers to adolescence as “a roiling emotional caldron whose major fuel -- more than parents, peers or school and almost as much as those things combined -- is [their romantic partners.]'' Teens’ lack of emotional control can make setting boundaries and having healthy relationships difficult, so it is important that we validate their feelings so we may better understand them.

While we may not experience the same emotional rollercoasters as teens, these feelings are real and throwing young romance into the mix adds another stressor. Dr. Wyndol Furman, an editor of The Development of Romantic Relationships in Adolescence, refers to adolescence as “a roiling emotional caldron whose major fuel -- more than parents, peers or school and almost as much as those things combined -- is [their romantic partners.]'' Teens’ lack of emotional control can make setting boundaries and having healthy relationships difficult, so it is important that we validate their feelings so we may better understand them.

 Many teens aren't familiar with  the signs of abuse.  What may first appear as endearing and thoughtful can quickly turn into controlling and manipulative. This is why it’s vital that we have these conversations--to educate folks so they know when their partners behavior has gone too far.  

Many teens aren't familiar with the signs of abuse. What may first appear as endearing and thoughtful can quickly turn into controlling and manipulative. This is why it’s vital that we have these conversations--to educate folks so they know when their partners behavior has gone too far.  

 Survivors may withdraw and disassociate from their friends and family because they are afraid; it can be hard to tell when someone we love is being abused because they might be hiding it. Recognizing  the warning signs  is the first step helping survivors.

Survivors may withdraw and disassociate from their friends and family because they are afraid; it can be hard to tell when someone we love is being abused because they might be hiding it. Recognizing the warning signs is the first step helping survivors.

 In a perfect world, convincing those experiencing abuse to separate themselves from their abusers would be as simple as saying, “you don’t deserve this.” The reality is, however, that we have to choose our words carefully. At Steps to End Domestic Violence, we work to empower survivors rather than offer advice or interject with personal opinions.  Remaining calm is hard when someone we love is hurting, but we want to cultivate an environment conducive to feeling safe and understood.

In a perfect world, convincing those experiencing abuse to separate themselves from their abusers would be as simple as saying, “you don’t deserve this.” The reality is, however, that we have to choose our words carefully. At Steps to End Domestic Violence, we work to empower survivors rather than offer advice or interject with personal opinions.  Remaining calm is hard when someone we love is hurting, but we want to cultivate an environment conducive to feeling safe and understood.

 According to  DoSomething.org , only one-third of teens involved in abusive relationships tell anybody.

According to DoSomething.org, only one-third of teens involved in abusive relationships tell anybody.

So what can we do? We can start conversations with teens before they start dating. We can teach them what a healthy relationship looks like and open the lines of communication so that if a teen does enter an abusive relationship, they will have someone to confide in.

If you or someone you know might be experiencing intimate partner or dating violence, call our 24-hour hotline at (802) 658-1996.


 

 

Get Out

 

The following poem and its accompanying video were created by a domestic violence survivor. Please note potential triggers in these pieces and the power in their messaging. 

I know what you are going thru! Because they say it takes one to know one and I know you.

I once was that one out of three statistic. Charm had me blindsided that I neglected the non-physical characteristics.

You know; a little control, and a little jealousy that used to be “CUTE” were sooner replaced with daily disrespect. Injecting me with insecurities that flourished in an already abandoned me.  Saying things like “you’re ugly, you’re slow and no one wants you”.  I believed it while analyzing the pieces that were wrong with me. I didn’t deserve that disrespect. Looking back I know the goal was to change my mindset

Demeaning jargon lead me to devalue myself and the confidence that once existed

My head shaved meant no more hair pulling to keep me hostage

As if that wasn’t sufficient

My mind had been convinced and manipulated to accept everything that was being served and every time a hand projected my skin I felt it was deserved.

My feelings were all tied up and bound and buried like distant and unforgiving memories.

Granting one full access to my emotions and feelings. Creating a tsunami of reflections that I was never to be but here I am.

In this makeshift woman made weather where every day it thunders and the lightening is just as quick as a fist. With enough destruction that is almost apocalyptic! When a surrender is easily detonated with fury and I am in its sight and path, except that explosion I can’t miss.

Because if I’m ugly and good for nothing than I guess this is as good as it gets for me I  knew I needed to leave sooner than eventually. But with no plan, no job or money and family support. I couldn’t just jump ship. I couldn’t be homeless so I failed to report

I contemplated suicide many times but by my hands I couldn’t. So with every fist or object jabbed into my flesh, I held my breath and I whispered just do it.

Suicide became me.

With Thoughts of my cold lifeless body on the floor

I envisioned of DO NOT CROSS secured on the door

For me to escape this abuse war I had to proceed

So I fought less. I began embracing what should have been my “END”.

Fights always turned physical and that day my Head was first to the cold concrete wrapped in a grocery bag stealing my main source of life. I began fading and grasping that one moment of freedom in my savored last breathe.

This is the moment that I savored the fruit of abuse, another statistic I am, another lover’s quarrel they will say. Another gullible woman she should of left anyway

But in the midst of the battle there was a shift.

Clarity and survival gave me enough devotion to live. I was the enemy without a plan. Clear exit to the door. Scared every footstep could have been my last and so I ran.

Determined not to look back because looking back was going backwards and backwards would have ended my lifespan. I could finally live and take a stand.

For the first time in years, fighting thru tears of joy I never felt and happiness I wasn’t allowed I stand proud.

Today I am wounded but undefeated.

Every day of life is a reminder that I am a survivor.

So for you I understand what you’re going thru

Fight your way out

No more secret silence and cover ups

No more deprivation by being a commodity

Mrs. Liberation

You are Beautiful, loved, special and courageous

More future than past

The addition to being equivalent

Breaking down the walls and barriers and saying enough is enough to of the Verbal, Mental, and Physical imprisonment

Full Bellies, Full Hearts

Making meals for families at the Steps to End Domestic Violence shelter brings a new sense of meaning to Heidi's life. Since January, she and her colleagues at PedsOne and PCC in Winooski have been preparing delicious meals for shelter residents twice each month. Before there was something missing, Heidi said, but since she began dropping off green beans, tacos, and a variety of other meals, she feels fulfilled.

This endeavor started with just Heidi. One person, who had heard about us and wanted to do one small thing to help. She casually mentioned it to a colleague who dove in. Now, it has expanded and Heidi's entire team at PedsOne and PCC. Through it all, Heidi has made at least one dish every other week since January, resulting in 22 meals donated to Steps to End Domestic Violence.

Even Heidi’s four-year-old daughter participates in the cooking. Together they talk about the importance of being involved in one’s community. Her daughter wants to make sure that the children who are living in shelter have something just for them in every meal. Last week, she picked out cookies with M&Ms. They were a hit!

It feels great when a group in our community spends time putting together a meal for shelter. Heidi, PedsOne, and PCC have filled the bellies and hearts of those we serve.

We are so grateful for their tremendous generosity and dedication to ending domestic violence with us, one meal at a time.

Spotlight: Self-care tips from advocates

It can be hard to carve out some time for yourself, but self-care isn't selfish!

Our direct service staff know this and they wanted to share with you some of their favorite self-care activities: 

 

“Go to the movies and unplug.”

“Watching movies with the fireplace on with my dog after eating a home cooked dinner.”

"I make a cup of tea, light some candles and snuggle with my cat."

"I go and buy my favorite ice cream or dessert."

"I call a good friend and just talk about nothing in particular."

“I like to take baths with a bath bomb. I like to catch up on reading, especially lighter reading (non-trauma stories). I like to binge watch one of my favorite shows, usually Gilmore Girls. I love to sit down with a great cup of coffee and a book either by the window or outside.”

“I like to play games either by myself or with friends.”

"In the summer, I like to lay out in the sun at the beach or my backyard and read."

“I like to read a book with my son.”

“I cook a delicious meal.”

“I like to write thank you notes to my friends and family, take my puppy to the dog park and watch the show, “Parks and Recreation” for inspiration on how to be more like Leslie Knope (my hero).”

“I like to snuggle with my dog.”

“Sometimes I turn my phone on silent mode and relax.”

“I enjoy going on long drives with my dog.”

“I like to go out to eat and have comfort food like French fries or shepherd’s pie.”

“In the summer, I like to fly a kite near Shelburne Pond. It’s really beautiful there.”

“I like to go on brewery tours in Vermont with my husband and friends.”

Learn more about: Self-care

Town Meeting Day

Town Meeting Day in Vermont is Tuesday, March 7! Let your town know you support those affected by domestic violence. We put together a fact sheet on how many people we served last year in your hometown! 

Did you know we receive funding from many of the towns and cities in Chittenden County?

Please bring one of the below sheets to your hometown's meeting and share it with your neighbors and elected officials. You can also post your hometown's statistics on your Front Porch Forum!

Encourage your town or city council to allocate funds to Steps to End Domestic Violence!

By raising awareness, you can help end domestic violence.

Find your hometown:

Bolton

Burlington

Charlotte

Colchester

Essex

Essex Junction

Hinesburg

Huntington

Jericho

Milton

Richmond

Shelburne

South Burlington

St. George

Underhill

Westford

Williston

Winooski

 

Do you have any questions? Contact us

Zumba® Brings People Together

Zumba® Brings People Together 

Jessica Hall is a local Zumba® fitness instructor and is this year’s Zumbathon® instructor coordinator. We asked Jessica to share with us why our Zumbathon® is so special and what Zumba® fitness means to her.

The Steps to End Domestic Violence Zumbathon® is the biggest Zumba® event in Vermont and, whether as a student or an instructor, it’s always been a “don’t miss” party. It is in its NINTH year! And it has it all, including instructors from all across the state, lights, cameras, crazy costumes, shenanigans, new routines, prizes, you name it! Not to mention that there’s no other feeling like rocking out to some INCREDIBLE music with a few hundred pals! But that’s not all this party is; first and foremost is that it benefits a good cause.

As someone who witnessed domestic violence as a child and young adult, I know the negative impact that domestic violence can have on a person. People need to understand that organizations like this change people’s lives. These services are imperative to victims of domestic violence and give them the tools that they need to survive and thrive and to move on toward a brighter future.

The opportunity to take this passion for Zumba® and use it to help raise money for Steps to End Domestic Violence means the world to me. I am beyond grateful to be a part of it. 

I began my Zumba® journey nearly 8 years ago. I was a Mom of three children and worked full-time. I was 36-years-old, stressed, quickly becoming out of shape and desperately needing something just for myself. I saw a sign posted outside of a dance studio in Swanton advertising Zumba® classes. I thought “why not” and showed up the following week.

I had no idea what to expect when I showed up there by myself, with no dance background whatsoever and with no exercise since before I was pregnant with my then 9-month-old daughter. I was nervous and unsure, to say the least, and had to take some deep breathes before heading inside. What if I looked ridiculous? Would I be able to make it through a whole class? Would I know anyone? What if I was a distraction to other people there? 

When I got inside I was greeted warmly by the instructors. I took a spot in the back and class began. I got winded quickly, had a hard time doing both the arm movement AND the legs and was undoubtedly the NEW person in the room. But the instructors kept right on cueing and I was able to get a good workout and feel like I had success with the movements. And the music, oh that music; that feel good, get sassy, empowering, uplifting music. It made me forget that I was working out, that I was screwing up, that I had laundry at home, stress at work and EVERY other stressor in my life. For that glorious hour it was the instructors, me and the music-that’s IT. After just one class, I was hooked. My life has changed for the better since then!

Zumba® has given me so much over the last 8 years. I’m more coordinated these days, thankfully! It’s made me more confident, it’s reshaped me physically, it’s reshaped me mentally, it’s my joy, it’s my therapy and it’s my passion. The network of people that I have met through Zumba® STILL blows my mind!

People of all ages, fitness levels, gender, race, religion, creed and color ALL fit in in a Zumba® class. Zumba® brings people together in joy and fitness in a way that I have never seen before. These classmates become part of your Zumba® family as well. We’ve celebrated birthdays, going-away, weddings, baby showers, graduations-you name it. We have laughed, cried, supported and cheered on together. 

Most importantly, the impact of the Zumbathons® hosted by local instructors for charity is mind blowing.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for both national and local organizations and that’s been from just here in Vermont! Zumba® brings people together, especially when it’s for a cause.  I am so honored to be part of the passionate, generous, caring, socially conscious group of Zumba® instructors that we have here in Vermont! We all do some pretty amazing things when we come together!

Register for the 9th Annual Zumbathon®

Photo courtesy of Tim Stowe Photography